Liverpool have been plunged further into a defensive injury crisis following the news that Joe Gomez will be sidelined after suffering a knee injury while on international duty with England.
The Premier League champions are already without Virgil van Dijk, who underwent surgery on serious knee ligament injury after last month’s Merseyside derby and could potentially miss the rest of the season.
Fabinho dropped back into defence to replace Van Dijk but is yet to return from a thigh injury sustained in the Champions League win over Midtjylland, though a return after the international break is possible.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is also sidelined after suffering a calf injury in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City at the Etihad. Klopp bemoaned the Premier League’s decision to only allow three substitutions per game at half time.
Joel Matip is currently Liverpool’s only fit senior centre-back, with Dejan Lovren having moved to Zenit St Petersburg during the previous transfer window, though Klopp has a number of makeshift options to choose from in Gomez’s absence.
Who could fill in alongside Matip in the absence of Gomez, Van Dijk and Fabinho?
Phillips was thrown in alongside Gomez to play against West Ham earlier this month and won the most aerial duels of any player on the pitch in a 2-1 win at Anfield.
The 23-year-old spent the first half of last season on loan at Stuttgart, then returned to make his senior Liverpool debut amid another injury crisis in the FA Cup third round win over Everton, after which he was promptly loaned back.
Klopp on Phillips: “He’s a brilliant guy, smart guy, intelligent, everything. He’s not easy on the eye, he’s not Messi but who cares? In the air, he’s a monster! He was incredible.”
Williams stepped into the centre of Liverpool’s defence as a substitute against Midtjylland following Fabinho’s injury and played well enough to win Klopp’s trust, playing the full 90 minutes in the 5-0 win over Atalanta.
The Preston-born 19-year-old had already featured in the EFL Cup earlier this season but handled the pressure of his first start in a major competition, winning special praise from his manager after the final whistle.
Klopp on Williams: “Exceptional. I cannot imagine being 19 and playing in the Champions League against Zapata, it’s incredible. I couldn’t be more happy for Rhys. You should see him in the dressing room, you’d need something special to get the smile off his face.”
Two years younger than Williams, Koumetio was the break-out star of Liverpool’s pre-season training camp in Austria but a mistake on their return in a pre-season friendly against Blackpool tempered expectations.
Like Sepp van den Berg, the opportunity of first-team playing time has probably come slightly too soon for Koumetio
Klopp on Koumetio: “Billy the Kid – he doesn’t look like a kid. His face looks like a kid but then all the rest is ‘wow!'”
[On the Blackpool mistake] “All these things, little things to learn, but 17 years old, the whole life in front of him, which is really nice. [He is a] big talent.”
Klopp may elect to play another member of his first-team squad at centre-half instead, having recently discussed the possibility.
The Liverpool manager touted Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner as potential solutions to any shortage of centre-halves, while Andy Robertson could fill in with Kostas Tsimikas taking his place at left-back.
Klopp on out-of-position players: “We have other options like [Jordan] Henderson, or Gini [Wijnaldum] or James [Milner], or Robbo, he can play centre-half as well.
“They are all not smaller than Javier Mascherano, for example, and he played pretty well in that position [for Barcelona].So yes, we still have one or two options and one of them we will choose.”
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